Brentwood School, Mill Bay British Columbia
Rod and I are climbing into our Eurovan. Rod-
“Good.” He grabs a duffel bag. “Come with me.”
We’re parked in a mowed field with 200 other cars. All of us are here at Brentwood School, a posh private boarding school in British Columbia, to see our kids and their crew teams race. As I walk towards Rod he’s bent over his bag, but now he stands up and tosses me a baseball glove.
Oh. Right. I grab the mitt, #41 Learn to Play Catch.
Actually… I am kinda hungry.
This, I’m beginning to realize, is my typical reaction to fear. I want to face my fears, I really do. But given the opportunity to check one off the list, I pop into reverse. Sometimes with a note of outrage. Like this-
“Here? Are you nuts? There are too many cars!”
Rod is looking back at me impassively. He is surrounded by grass. He’s waiting it out. Waiting for me to bargain with myself about the inevitable damage to cars vs. my need to stop fearing stupid stuff like the off-chance of damaging cars.
Around my 50th birthday, when I jotted #41 down on a legal pad, I didn’t really consider how stupid it would sound. Learn to Play Catch. Who doesn’t know how to play catch? I just knew that catching a ball as it hurtles toward my face has always been something I avoided. Like the plague.
After my list was made; weeks afterwards-and even still-I think about why I wrote each thing, and where the fear came from. Yes, #41 is lame. But it’s also logical. I remember being very small and going out to play catch. I remember not catching the ball, and being told: “Don’t be afraid of the ball.” And I remember-as if it were yesterday-giving that ball a sidelong glance as it waited for me to retrieve it from the grass, and thinking “Sooo, there’s something about you I’m not supposed to be afraid of, eh? Which can only mean…(I was so smart) that there is something definitely to be feared about you.” I was a regular half-pint Sherlock Holmes.
And so I came to understand that #41 was about my fear of getting hit by a ball. My fear of the crunch of high velocity ball against nasal septum. The fear of going to an ER and having them snap it back in place. The fear of looking ever after like Sylvester Stalone.
But those were not the fears that cropped up in that grassy parking field. Instead, it was annoyance.
“Okay, fine.” I muttered, putting on Rod’s (stupid!) baseball glove. I walked a little (stupid!) ways away. I looked around at all the (stupid!) lovely lanky rowers and all the (stupid!) gracefully aging former-athlete parents. I looked around at the (stupid!) manicured loveliness of Brentwood School-it’s (stupid!) grounds and it’s (stupid!) building and it’s (stupid!) uniformed Harry Potter-type kids, and the (stupid!) orange-y setting sun and I realized what I was really afraid of:
I was afraid of looking stupid.
I didn’t want everyone to see me looking like a dork who never learned to play catch. I didn’t want to be the mom on her hands and knees with her butt in the air like one of those gardening statues, reaching under a car for the ball that got away, or the ball that bounced off her glove, or the ball that went sideways because of her moronic throw. I imagined those regal crew parents smirking at each other, watching me retrieve the ball and chuckling condescendingly at Rod’s “It’s okay. You’ll get the next one. Keep your eye on it.” God. How awful.
Rod teaches me to extend my mitted hand out, pointing it toward him, and then to throw with the other arm. I do this, and the ball sails.
Rod has me hold my glove out high. He throws the ball and it thunks heavily into my glove.
(Yes, I know this is Rod’s doing.)
But as we continue the ball travels, and I catch it. Up high. Down low. Forehand. Backhand. Pop-fly.
Rod is shaking his head.
“What do you mean, you don’t know how to play catch?”
And I am dancing, like an idiot. I am drunk on the fact that I am playing catch.
Rod watches me shimmy around the parking field.
“You know, for someone who’s afraid of looking stupid…”
“Yeah?” I ask him, daring him to finish that thought as I do a few triumphant sidesteps and grapevines.
“Nothing” he replies.